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Happy Birthday, Harper Lee!

By Kristin Masters. Apr 27, 2012. 4:37 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Literature

Tomorrow is the birthday of Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee. The reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird will be 86 years old.  Though Lee published only one novel, this single book proved one of the seminal works of the twentieth century—and one of the most controversial.

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird addresses race, prejudice, and class differences through the eyes of a young girl. Since the novel’s publication, it has been challenged in schools and libraries across the country. Once called a “filthy, trashy novel” by detractors in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980), To Kill a Mockingbird also remains a cornerstone of many English and Language Arts curricula all over the nation.

Lee is hardly the first great author to incite the ire of would-be censors. Indeed, most legendary authors of the 20th century have sparked controversy…and not only in the United States.

  • JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye has long been a favorite target for censorship. One English teacher was even fired for teaching the book. Usual complaints include profanity and adult themes.

  • Both The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck have garnered challenges and bans. In 1973 eleven Turkish booksellers actually stood trial for possessing copies of The Grapes of Wrath.

  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner has been temporarily banned in several school districts, but the decision has always been overturned—once after the ACLU got involved.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway was declared unmailable by the US Post Office in 1940. Meanwhile A Sun Also Rises  was banned in several countries and burned in Nazi bonfires.

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has been banned for a variety of reasons, from explicit language to negative portrayals of women. One school district even had the book reviewed by top law enforcement agents.

  • JRR Tolkien'’s Lord of the Rings was burned outside a church in New Mexico, along with other books in the series. Church leaders declared the work satanic.

  • Ireland’s Board of Censors declared Rabbit Run by John Updike “obscene” and “indecent.” It was banned from sales throughout Ireland until 1967, when new censorship legislation was introduced.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce was burned in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and England. The book was produced and distributed only in bootleg fashion in the US until 1932.

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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